ADHD and Pesticides

It’s interesting to think about how pesticides work to fend off pests. These chemicals “work” by attacking the nervous systems of bugs and other pests. How do these neurotoxins affect our nervous system and brain function? How do we study the effects of low-dose pesticide exposure over years and years of consumption of vegetables and fruits?

These studies are difficult to conduct, but the emerging evidence sends a clear message: Pregnant women and children should avoid pesticide exposure and all persons should consider how pesticides affect brain function.

Health concerns related to pesticide exposure originated in farm workers whom have direct contact with these chemicals. Over the years, concerns have extended to all persons consuming conventionally raised foods that have been grown with pesticides.

High Risk Populations
Farm workers, pregnant women and children are at the highest risk of negative health affects related to pesticide exposure. In farm workers, correlations have been found between exposure to pesticides and poor health, including symptoms of attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Pregnancy and childhood are critical periods for neurological development in which pesticide exposure has unique, long-term impacts. For example, a recent study demonstrated that children of pregnant women with the highest level of pesticide urine metabolites were 5 times more likely to have ADHD at 5 years old. Significant associations with ADHD were found among all concentrations of urinary pesticide residues and the associations were stronger in boys compared to girls.

Another study, completed in 2010 found that pesticide exposure, at levels common among US children, increased the risk of ADHD. In this study, urinary metabolites of common pesticides were measured in a representative sample of 1139 children 8-15 years old. Children with higher levels of urinary pesticide metabolites were twice as likely to have ADHD.

Based on these studies and others like them, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have as low of exposure to pesticides as possible, and this should include starting during pregnancy.

Reducing Pesticide Exposure
Research has documented in an observational study and in a dietary intervention study that urinary pesticide metabolites rise or fall corresponding with dietary consumption of conventionally-grown produce or organically-grown produce, therefore choosing organic produce is an effective way to reduce pesticide exposure. Based on this, here are some strategies to reduce your dietary pesticide exposure:

  • Purchase organic produce.
  • Prioritize organic produce items that are among the Dirty Dozen of most highly contaminated varieties.
  • Wash produce well.
  • Trim fat from meat and remove skin from poultry and fish. Many pesticide residues concentrate in animal fat.

Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.

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